“I know, sir, you are prejudiced against me,” said Prince Florestan, bowing before Mr. Wilton with a sort of haughty humility, “and therefore I the more appreciate your condescension in receiving me.”
“I have no wish to refer to the past,” said Mr. Wilton somewhat sternly. “You mentioned in your letter that my cooperation was necessary with reference to your private affairs, of which I once was a trustee, and under those circumstances I felt it my duty to accede to your request. I wish our communication to be limited to that business.”
“It shall be so strictly,” said the prince; “you may remember, sir, that at the unhappy period when we were deprived of our throne, the name of Queen Agrippina was inscribed on the great book of the state for a considerable sum, for which the credit of the state was pledged to her. It was strictly her private property, and had mainly accrued through the sale of the estates of her ancestors. This sum was confiscated, and several other amounts, which belonged to members of our house and to our friends. It was an act of pure rapine, so gross, that as time revolved, and the sense of justice gradually returned to the hearts of men, restitution was made in every instance except my own, though I have reason to believe that individual claim was the strongest. My bankers, the house of Neuchatel, who have much interested themselves in this matter, and have considerable influence with the government that succeeded us, have brought things to this pass, that we have reason to believe our claim would be conceded, if some of the foreign governments, and especially the government of this country, would signify that the settlement would not be disagreeable to them.” And the prince ceased, and raising his eyes, which were downcast as he spoke, looked Mr. Wilton straight in the face.
“Before such a proposal could even be considered by Her Majesty’s Government,” said Mr. Wilton with a reddening cheek, “the intimation must be made to them by authority. If the minister of your country has such an intimation to make to ours, he should address himself to the proper quarter, to Lord Roehampton.”
“I understand,” said Prince Florestan; “but governments, like individuals, sometimes shrink from formality. The government of my country will act on the intimation, but they do not care to make it an affair of despatches.”
“There is only one way of transacting business,” said Mr. Wilton frigidly, and as if, so far as he was concerned, the interview was ended.
“I have been advised on high authority,” said Prince Florestan, speaking very slowly, “that if any member of the present cabinet will mention in conversation to the representative of my country here, that the act of justice would not be disagreeable to the British Government, the affair is finished.”
“I doubt whether any one of my colleagues would be prepared to undertake a personal interference of that kind with a foreign government,” said Mr. Wilton stiffly. “For my own part, I have had quite enough of such interpositions never to venture on them again.”
“The expression of feeling desired would involve no sort of engagement,” said the imperturbable prince.
“That depends on the conscience of the individual who interferes. No man of honour would be justified in so interposing if he believed he was thus furnishing arms against the very government of which he solicited the favour.”
“But why should he believe this?” asked the prince with great calmness.
“I think upon reflection,” said Mr. Wilton, taking up at the same time an opened letter which was before him, as if he wished to resume the private business on which he had been previously engaged, “that your royal highness might find very adequate reasons for the belief.”
“I would put this before you with great deference, sir,” said the prince. “Take my own case; is it not more likely that I should lead that life of refined retirement, which I really desire, were I in possession of the means to maintain such a position with becoming dignity, than if I were distressed, and harassed, and disgusted, every day, with sights and incidents which alike outrage my taste and self-respect? It is not prosperity, according to common belief, that makes conspirators.”
“You were in a position, and a refined position,” rejoined Mr. Wilton sharply; “you had means adequate to all that a gentleman could desire, and might have been a person of great consideration, and you wantonly destroyed all this.”
“It might be remembered that I was young.”
“Yes, you were young, very young, and your folly was condoned. You might have begun life again, for to the world at least you were a man of honour. You had not deceived the world, whatever you might have done to others.”
“If I presume to make another remark,” said the prince calmly, but pale, “it is only, believe me, sir, from the profound respect I feel for you. Do not misunderstand these feelings, sir. They are not unbecoming the past. Now that my mother has departed, there is no one to whom I am attached except yourself. I have no feeling whatever towards any other human being. All my thought and all my sentiment are engrossed by my country. But pardon me, dear sir, for so let me call you, if I venture to say that, in your decision on my conduct, you have never taken into consideration the position which I inherited.”
“I do not follow you, sir.”
“You never will remember that I am the child of destiny,” said Prince Florestan. “That destiny will again place me on the throne of my fathers. That is as certain as I am now speaking to you. But destiny for its fulfilment ordains action. Its decrees are inexorable, but they are obscure, and the being whose career it directs is as a man travelling in a dark night; he reaches his goal even without the aid of stars or moon.”
“I really do not understand what destiny means,” said Mr. Wilton. “I understand what conduct means, and I recognise that it should be regulated by truth and honour. I think a man had better have nothing to do with destiny, particularly if it is to make him forfeit his parole.”
“Ah! sir, I well know that on that head you entertain a great prejudice in my respect. Believe me it is not just. Even lawyers acknowledge that a contract which is impossible cannot be violated. My return from America was inevitable. The aspirations of a great people and of many communities required my presence in Europe. My return was the natural development of the inevitable principle of historical necessity.”
“Well, that principle is not recognised by Her Majesty’s Ministers,” said Mr. Wilton, and both himself and the prince seemed to rise at the same time.
“I thank you, sir, for this interview,” said his royal highness. “You will not help me, but what I require will happen by some other means. It is necessary, and therefore it will occur.”
The prince remounted his horse, and rode off quickly till he reached the Strand, where obstacles to rapid progress commenced, and though impatient, it was some time before he reached Bishopsgate Street. He entered the spacious courtyard of a noble mansion, and, giving his horse to the groom, inquired for Mr. Neuchatel, to whom he was at once ushered — seated in a fine apartment at a table covered with many papers.
“Well, my prince,” said Mr. Neuchatel with a smiling eye, “what brings such a great man into the City today? Have you seen your great friend?” And then Prince Florestan gave Mr. Neuchatel a succinct but sufficient summary of his recent interview.
“Ah!” said Mr. Neuchatel, “so it is, so it is; I dare say if you were received at St. James’, Mr. Sidney Wilton would not be so very particular; but we must take things as we find them. If our fine friends will not help us, you must try us poor business men in the City. We can manage things here sometimes which puzzle them at the West End. I saw you were disturbed when you came in. Put on a good countenance. Nobody should ever look anxious except those who have no anxiety. I dare say you would like to know how your account is. I will send for it. It is not so bad as you think. I put a thousand pounds to it in the hope that your fine friend would help us, but I shall not take it off again. My Louis is going to-night to Paris, and he shall call upon the ministers and see what can be done. In the meantime, good appetite, sir. I am going to luncheon, and there is a place for you. And I will show you my Gainsborough that I have just bought, from a family for whom it was painted. The face is divine, very like our Miss Ferrars. I am going to send the picture down to Hainault. I won’t tell you what I gave for it, because perhaps you would tell my wife and she would be very angry. She would want the money for an infant school. But I think she has schools enough. Now to lunch.”
On the afternoon of this day there was a half-holiday at the office, and Endymion had engaged to accompany Waldershare on some expedition. They had been talking together in his room where Waldershare was finishing his careless toilette, which however was never finished, and they had just opened the house door and were sallying forth when Colonel Albert rode up. He gave a kind nod to Endymion, but did not speak, and the companions went on. “By the by, Ferrars,” said Waldershare, pressing his arm and bubbling with excitement, “I have found out who your colonel is. It is a wondrous tale, and I will tell it all to you as we go on.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07